Reporting Steve Scott
NEW YORK (CBS 2 / WCBS 880) – A former madam and the representative of the “Rent Is 2 Damn High” Party are among the seven candidates for New York governor who will debate Monday night in the first — and probably only — face off of campaign 2010.
If you’re an undecided voter, don’t expect to learn too much about the gubernatorial candidates from Monday night’s debate. Experts say with so many participants and only 90 minutes it’s a format that encourages political theater over substance, reports CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer.
“It encourages third party candidates and candidates who don’t have very much in the way of name recognition at this point to throw bombs, to do something memorable, probably at the expense of public discourse,” Baruch College pundit David Birdsell said.
Republican Carl Paladino and Democrat Andrew Cuomo will finally meet to debate the pressing issues facing the state. But with five third party candidates also on the stage Birdsell said you probably won’t hear much from the two major players.
“We won’t be able to get the head-to-head between the top two candidates that many people want to see. We’ll be lucky if we see eight to 10 minutes of speaking on the part of anybody on stage,” Birdsell said.
And that’s if you get to see the debate. It’s being broadcast only on two cable outlets, so if you’re not a customer or don’t have cable, you can see it on the Web or listen on radio.
In addition to Cuomo and Paladino, the players include:
* Libertarian Warren Redlich, who wants heroin made available to addicts by prescription
* Freedom Party candidate Charles Barron, a former Black Panther
* Howie Hawkins of the Green Party
* Jimmy McMillan of the Rent Is 2 Damn High Party
* And Manhattan madam Kristin Davis of the Anti-Prohibition party. She says she got hookers for former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
There are many arguments — pro and con — for including all the candidates. Experts said it helps the two main combatants
“It does allow them to duck what might be a more contentious and what might be a more revealing debate,” Birdsell said.
“It will be a free-for-all,” predicted Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll.
In terms of traditional strategy, Miringoff said Cuomo will have to avoid saying anything that will become the main topic of conversation the following day.
“He has to be invisible and stay on message,” Miringoff said, adding that Paladino has a “second chance to make a first impression.”
Paladino’s poll numbers have been slipping since late September, when he was caught on video loudly arguing with a reporter over Paladino’s unsubstantiated claim that Cuomo had extramarital affairs. And he has apologized for forwarding racist and sexist e-mails.
“Despite it being the ninth inning, he has to give his voters something to show he is a credible candidate, which he clearly has not been able to pull off so far,” Miringoff said. “He needs to show he can stay focused on issues because everyone is expecting the personal vitriol.”
Larry Levy, a news commentator and head of Hofstra’s suburban studies center, said it would be a mistake for viewers to ignore the minor party candidates.
“Most of them are serious people who are running on serious issues and I think they have a healthy respect and commitment to their issues,” he said.
“You will see some signs of political inexperience, but I don’t think they are going to try to make fools of themselves,” he said. “They care too much about their issues.”
Hawkins, for example, has long been committed to environmental and social justice advocacy and has detailed and innovative proposals. He has campaigned hard to get the vote of rank-and-file union members who he feels aren’t in step with union leaders backing Cuomo.
Barron, an experienced black politician, poses a threat to Cuomo for black voters. Barron has railed against a lack of a racial minority or woman on the Democratic ticket.
Davis’ platform is based on her concern that the powerful major parties are eroding individual rights. She wants to decriminalize marijuana and legalize and regulate prostitution, as in Nevada, which she said will limit the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and provide millions of dollars in tax revenue while improving public safety.
Redlich, who has said he wants government to get out of New Yorkers’ lives, is in a fight with Paladino for the tea party vote.
McMillan has run for office before, raising attention about New York City’s diminishing middle class, who have been driven away by housing costs.
“I understand democracy and I realize all these people got on the ballot, but as a voter what I really want to see is a debate between Cuomo and Paladino,” said Steven Greenberg of the Siena College poll.
He estimates that the format could mean each candidate will have as little as 10 minutes of air time.
“There’s certainly a potential for a circus, but I would hope these candidates could keep it together,” he said.
Meanwhile, Paladino and Cuomo are airing ads to energize their voters, including one where the Cuomo Camp reveals “The Real Carl,” and the Paladino troops march out “Joe and Josephine Citizen.”
The debate is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be carried on cable television and on National Public Radio.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)